Divided We Stand?
“We are more divided than ever.”
This is a sentiment that I’ve heard many times over the last few years, and I’ve heard it from a range of different people. So, it seems that the only thing we’re united about is that we’re not united. The only thing we agree on is that we disagree on everything.
Divisions between ethnicities, genders, political parties, environmental issues, economic issues, public health issues, and we could go on, these divisions seem to be deeper and more bitter than ever. Or least, deeper and more bitter than they have been for anyone who didn’t live through a World War, Vietnam, or the Civil Rights Movement.
And it’s one thing for the world to be divided over politics; it’s one thing for the world to be divided over cultural issues; it’s one thing for the world to be divided over economics or whatever topic you want to pick on. But it’s a terrible tragedy on a whole other level for the church to be divided over such things. In one sense, it’s normal for the world to be divided, but it’s devastating for the church to be divided against herself.
Our world is divided, so the world can’t offer us answers on finding the unity we need. Instead, we need God to speak into our world; we need God to speak into our church; we need God to speak into each one of our lives, so that we can experience the reconciliation and re-unification that we were intended for.
It’s just our luck that there was another city that was just like ours — ancient Corinth.
Corinth is located in the south-central part of Greece. It was a thriving and prosperous city that attracted a large amount of all kinds of people mostly because of the economic opportunity it provided. Corinth is located on a trade route and all the traffic coming through Corinth brought a lot of people and a lot of different kinds of people to the city.
Perhaps the most obvious difference amongst people was their social status, often related to wealth and education*. There were the cultural elites, who were educated, who were wealthy, and who were connected to the upper crust of Corinthian society. And then there was a large group of lower class, less wealthy, less educated people.
But into this melting pot of different people, from different backgrounds, with different lifestyles, on different parts of the social totem pole, God sends the Apostle Paul. And Paul preaches the good news that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and he teaches them that we can be reconciled to one another through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection unites us with God, and it unites us with one another. Whether we’re rich or poor, whether we’re educated or not so educated, whether we’re white collar or blue collar, whether we’re cultural elites or completely average, we are called together in Christ.
So, what does it mean to be called together in Christ? It sounds nice that a diverse group of people could be unified like this, but what does it mean?
Let’s dive into Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth to find out.
1 Corinthians 1:1–2a — Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…
Paul spends the majority of these two verses identifying the recipients of his letter. He says that he’s writing to the church of God. So already we see that there’s a communal emphasis. Paul doesn’t say, “I’m writing to you, an individual Christian, who is sitting down to read some Scripture all by yourself for private devotions.” No, he says, I am writing to you the church of God, the people of God, the assembly of God, the collective community of Christ-followers.
But notice, this is really important: he doesn’t only say that they are God’s people, that they are God’s church; he says that they are God’s people, they are God’s church in Corinth. And this is where so much of the tension and conflict and division comes from because they are the people of God still living on earth. They are citizens of heaven and citizens of Corinth. And that’s the crux of the issue for these Corinthians: Is it their identity in Christ that will influence them the most, or is it their identity as Corinthians that will influence them the most?
We face the same question today.
Paul takes this Old Testament idea of items or buildings being sanctified, and he applies it to all who are in Christ. We are a distinct people; we are a set apart people; we are separate from the world when it comes to our values, our priorities, our behavior, our attitudes. Did the Corinthian Christians still live in Corinth? Sure. And do we still live in America? Sure. But though we live in the world, we are distinct from the world and set apart for Christ.
And our distinctness means that we don’t operate by the values and priorities of the culture we live in. Because if we do adopt the values of our surrounding culture, that’s what then leads to division. If we adopt our world’s view of money, then the rich amongst us will start to look down on the poor and the poor amongst us will start to look down on the rich. If we adopt our world’s view of politics, then the people with these political leanings will start to look down on people with those political leanings and vice versa. The list goes on.
It’s not American values or any sort of worldly principles by which we live and operate. If so, we’re going to fit right into the world. We are meant to be distinct from the world, to stand out, and it’s by being devoted to Christ that will keep us together.
It’s easy to complain about and grieve all of the division in our world, and we should lament before God all of the pain from broken relationships. But if it’s true that we are more divided than ever, then we have more of an opportunity than ever. We as the church of God called together under Christ, can show the world a kind of togetherness that they can’t even dream of. When the church is fractured and split and divided, it brings reproach upon the name of Christ. But when we live out the grace we’ve received, when we embody the peace we have, we show the world the power of the gospel to unite a people, who otherwise are very different from one another.
Let’s once again hear the call of Christ to come together: we are his holy, set-apart people, we are united under one Lord, and we are recipients and givers of grace.